A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
Here in the North West, along with other colleagues around the country, we are concerned with youth voice. So many people are these days, but I still get the feeling that a lot of organisations talk to young people and then that is it; all rather tokenistic. I share the frustrations of many youth workers on this issue and those of young people who feel ignored.
Recently I asked Youthforia if they wanted to take part in a consultation on public transport…. I was almost deafened by the very strong NO! Their response: “We have told them over and over again and nothing changes; tell them what we said last time”. Given this, how should we be gathering the views of young people and supporting them to further those causes and issues they feel strongly about?
In previous years, Youthforia has campaigned around transport, things to do and places to go, and sex and relationship education, for example. These campaigns haven’t achieved a significant legacy and the way they’re conducted has changed since the Coalition Government came to power. They have moved from ‘this is what young people want’ to producing ‘suggestions to improve services young people use’. It has become clear to us that a model that brings together adult / decision maker / expert experience and knowledge with the ‘lived experience’ of young people could make some powerful recommendations.
So, as part of this campaign process, Youthforia initiated the Youthforia Youth Employment Commission (YYEC) to generate new thinking and policy ideas around youth unemployment, directly informed by young people. The Youthforia Youth Employment Commission was established as a policy group which combines adult experts on youth unemployment, such as policy makers and employers, with young people. The adults involved are committed to improving employment opportunities, and through this Commission, they are brought into direct contact with young people.
One of the adults from the group – Ian Simpson from Guinness Northern Counties – said: “It has been a pleasure to work with the Youthforia Commission. The young people presented wholly positive contributions and displayed talent, determination and optimism for their futures – it’s up to us professionals and policy makers to meet the challenge and not let them down. The meetings were dynamic and really challenged my perceptions about young people’s experience from school to employment. I hope we can work together in future.”
Our work centres around young people and we sometimes forget that for other organisations, their starting point isn’t young people – it is the problem that needs to be addressed or the programme that needs to be delivered.
It has to be said that having people whose job is firmly in the field of employment as part of the Commission bought tremendous benefit. This enabled conversations to happen and a new way of thinking that educated all the members of the YYEC.
Learning took place for all Commission members, but for Youthforia having knowledgeable people like Ian involved has enabled us to develop realistic and sensible recommendations. This innovative way of working has given the YYEC and Youthforia’s campaign greater credibility; it is a way of working we want to continue.
Youthforia, the North West regional youth forum, is made up of young people (11-25) from across the North West and brings together local groups, such as youth councils and youth cabinets, to have a voice at a regional level. Youthforia is led by a steering group of young people who are elected by their peers. Youthforia’s aim is to enable young people to work together to improve the life experiences of other young people, and have a collective voice across the region. Youthforia is supported by the North West Regional Youth Work Unit and the British Youth Council; it acts to co-ordinate UK Youth Parliament in the North West.
Liz Harding – North West Regional Youth Work Unit